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Cronyism Isn’t Just About Economics; It’s About Culture

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According to Merriam-Webster, “cronyism” is ” the unfair practice by a powerful person (such as a politician) of giving jobs and other favors to friends.” For instance, former Detroit mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, surrounded himself with friends and family members while in office, as he cheerfully plundered the city’s coffers, sharing the wealth with his entourage.

It’s easy to think that cronyism is like Oz: “far, far away.” Yes, there are tricky creatures there, but heavens, we here in Kansas won’t be affected by shiny streets and glowing horses.

Not true. The economy shapes the culture. What happens in Oz, if you will, is felt in Kansas. And not only felt in Kansas, but eventually begins to seep into the Kansas culture. Why shouldn’t I have an army of flying monkeys to protect my farm? Why shouldn’t I sidle up to the Wicked Witch and make sure she’s on my side? You never know. Michael A. Needham and Ryan T. Anderson state,

While cronyism is most recognizable when it generates economic windfalls for the favored few, conservatives would do well to explain that it also operates in other realms. Indeed, for decades, the Left has been seeking special advantages from government in its effort to reshape the character of American society. So, if you’re against the government arbitrarily picking winners and losers in the economy, you need to be against it doing the same in the culture. If Solyndra and the Export-Import Bank are a problem, so too is government funding for Planned Parenthood and government discrimination against Catholic Charities.

We call this sort of government special-interest-seeking “cultural cronyism.”

Cronyism, like nearly all things bad for us, looks really good, like those giant lollipops the Munchkins are running around with. The question becomes, how do I get my hands on some of that? You start by building a big government – the more bureaucracy, the better. It’s much harder to keep tabs on who is doing what this way. Next, the court system:

Cultural cronyists often start in the courts, where they leverage the networks and institutions they dominate in law and academia to convince sympathetic judges to enact sweeping rulings that declare their core social priorities to be fundamental rights. In Roe v. Wade, activist judges sympathetic to abortion substituted their policy preferences for the text of the Constitution in an effort to shut down an ongoing public debate over the issue and impose their own social values.

Cultural cronyists also work at the state and local level to stifle dissent and require citizens to actively participate in activities with which they disagree.

Suddenly, we are not in Kansan anymore. And it ain’t pretty. We’ve pulled back the curtain, and discovered there is no magic there, just greedy little men and women pulling levers and raking in favors.

How do we get home?

We start by fighting in the courts for fair interpretation and application of our laws. Courts must not favor special interests’ desires over the actual text of the Constitution. Without fair courts, no amount of public debate can result in sound policy on issues like marriage and life.

Outside the courtroom, our best strategy for combating cultural cronyism is identical to our strategy for combating economic cronyism: fight for governments whose powers are limited enough that cronyism becomes impossible. The alliance between social and economic conservatives is no mere product of contingent historical circumstance. Its strength is in part due to the fact that the greatest threat on both fronts is shared: the expansion of government into realms far beyond its appropriate scope.

The next time you hear or read of a government official tied to cronyism, don’t just shrug your shoulders and say, “That’s the way it is in Oz.” Thus begins the trail down the Yellow Brick Road of Cronyism. Instead, square  your shoulders and say, “We don’t do things like that here” and then get to work.

Read, “Cronyism Doesn’t Just Infect Markets—It Infects Culture” at The Federalist.

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Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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